This article is part of an ongoing series celebrating Stanford women in sports in honor of Women’s History Month, which is commemorated throughout March. This weekly series will feature profiles of current and former professional athletes, sports journalists and executives.
For the first time since 2008, baseball and softball will return to the Olympic games, which are set to take place this summer in Tokyo. Also returning to the Olympics is Jessica Mendoza ’02, a National Softball Hall of Fame 2019 inductee, two-time Olympian and groundbreaking baseball and softball analyst.
During her tenure as a member of the U.S. Women’s Softball National team from 2001 to 2010, Mendoza brought home a gold medal from the 2004 games in Athens and a silver from Beijing four years later. This year, when Mendoza heads to Tokyo to cover baseball and softball’s historic return, however, her two kids — a kindergartner and a fourth grader — will be alongside her to see the stage where their mother once stood.
Mendoza’s shift on the Olympic stage from the diamond to in front of the camera will surprise to few. In 2015, she became the first female in-game analyst for ESPN’s Monday Night Baseball, a national broadcast of the MLB. A year later, Mendoza became the first female analyst for Sunday Night Baseball, a national, weekly broadcast show on ESPN that averaged 1,505,000 viewers last year, its 31st consecutive season.
Today, the Stanford alum puts packages together for live studio shows like SportsCenter and First Take, where she grapples with statistics, metrics and online platforms to best tell a story that will be informative, accessible and fun.
“I love the combination of my nerdiness,” Mendoza said in a phone interview. “The stats and the numbers and all the cool technology blows my mind. I love the challenge of [thinking about] how we make this cool and fun for people to listen to.”
Much of Mendoza’s current job is informed by her past as a student-athlete on the Farm. At Stanford, Mendoza filled a career highlight reel as a four-time first-team All-American and All-Pac-10 honoree outfielder for the Cardinal from 1999-2002. As a sophomore, she led Stanford to its first-ever Women’s College World Series appearance and was a top-25 finalist for USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year. 18 years later, Mendoza still holds career records in batting average, hits, home runs, slugging, runs and stolen bases.
But behind Mendoza’s lengthy career highlights is a deep passion for learning and growth, which she credits to Stanford’s unique culture of cohesive academics and athletics.
“Stanford is unique, because I was rarely around [only my team],” she said. “You’re around your team [during] practice and travel on airplanes, and you love your team. But then you go back [to campus], and you’re with students — excited to get in these insane conversations… At the end of the day, I still wanted to learn and be a part of school.
“What I love about Stanford is [that it’s] not just the straight-A students from high school that we all knew that were just super nerds and didn’t know how to socialize and talk,” Mendoza said with a laugh. “And there are some of those still, but a mix of all kinds of different people — I heard so many different opinions from different people, [and] how they saw things.”
She noted that there is an expectation that student-athletes are also students. Whether an athlete or not, she stressed that all students are held to the same standard, and professors want them all to succeed.
As a student-athlete at Stanford, Mendoza said that she faced the pressures on both ends of her identity, both athletically and academically. At an institution known for its academics and with a legacy of record-breaking teams, she felt pressure to succeed.
“I remember freshman year sitting in a few classes and [thinking], ‘Okay, maybe I made the wrong choice … They’re all going to be Pulitzer Prize winners and are going to NASA and beyond the moon,’” Mendoza said of her peers. “[I] was an athlete being challenged on the field, physically, mentally, emotionally. [I] went through all of that — highs and lows, times when I was so close to getting cut, because I just wasn’t cutting it.”
Confidently embracing her voice in spite of such pressures is a lesson she took to heart. These experiences translated to her career now as an analyst for a national audience.
“I faced the challenge with bringing even tenfold of knowledge and confidence and owning what I’m doing,” Mendoza said of starting as an analyst. “And if that means that someone disagrees, or if it means I screw up, at least I’m 100% owning the person I am, my viewpoints and what I believe I’m saying and doing.”
Mendoza credits her curiosity as a storyteller to her Stanford experience, and it’s exciting that she has a platform to share the stories she finds. Over the years, media coverage has drastically changed to better reflect women in athletics. Gone are the days when the Women’s College World Series wasn’t televised: ESPN’s coverage of the 15-game tournament last year averaged one million viewers, a 20% increase in growth from the year before. Mendoza praises these positive changes towards equity — but gender disparity in the media remains. In response, she is actively seeking to bridge this divide in storytelling in sports as a content creator.
“I just remember how much it meant to me and my family for someone to tell my story,” Mendoza said. “For someone to take a minute to [understand me] beyond just how I hit a ball … I try to think about that.”
Mendoza loves that players are connected through the terminology of the game, even if separated by language and cultural differences.
“[I] try to talk more [about] who they are, as well. Because what meant so much [to me] as an athlete is for people covering me to see me as not just the numbers.”
As a woman in sports, and especially one that has transitioned from athlete to storyteller, Mendoza has become a trailblazer. In her journey to craft a unique voice in the world of sports, Mendoza has repeatedly faced and overcome obstacles, embracing her voice and unique perspective. Today, as a storyteller, she goes beyond saber-metrics to learn about the people involved and share their stories with viewers across the nation.
Not surprisingly, her advice for Stanford students is to attentively listen to the voices of others.
“Just be someone that can get to know and meet a lot of people,” Mendoza said. “It will form you in a way that shapes you for the rest of your life.”